Gratitude and greetings from the Bishop elect of Saitama, Mario Yamanouchi, SDB
Tokyo, Japan, 9 June 2018 -- As already did Pope Francis after his election in his first greetings on March 13, 2013 - also I’m asking each one of you to pray for me and from my part I’m sending you my blessing. From today on, don’t stop to pray for each other.
After your short prayer for me I would like to share a long journey – a complex story that the Lord with his Providence did during the 62 years of my life. I would like to share in the key of Exodus – like Abraham and Moses. This the way how to understand also my persona life.
The story starts in Argentina where I have arrived from Japan at the age of 9 and have lived there for long 33 years (1964-1997) and experience a lot of spiritual and pastoral adventures over those long years.
Lord’s Call: “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than the others do?’ (John 21,15).
With a great surprise I have received the appointment of Pope Francis aas a new bishop of the Saitama diocese just on the day when this Gospel passage was proclaimed in the Mass (June 2, Saturday). First of all I’m grateful to the Holy Father for all his trust in me and in the Salesian Congregation that is present in Japan already since 1926 through the arrival of the first missionaries from Italy guided by Venerable Fr. Vincent Cimatti. At present we are 95 professed members – Salesian Brother, Priests and young Salesians in initial formation, almost one third are missionaries from a variety of countries: Italy, Poland, Argentina, Spain, Mexico, Timor Leste, Korea, Kenya and India. Our Salesian province is living a crucial period of reshaping, through the evaluation of renewal of our way of our being and acting according to the needs of the poor young people. As all other religious congregations in Japan we face the challenge of vocations and need for more missionaries ad gentes from other countries but also a challenge of joint ongoing formation of the Lay mission partners and Salesians.
A vast and marvelous field of the Lord: ‘A sower went out to sow’ (Mt 13,3)
We Salesians have any presence north of Tokyo, that means also not in the Saitama diocese, but also there would be many Don Bosco Alumni and Friends of Don Bosco. I was never living in the four prefectures of the diocese – Saitama, Gunma, Tochigi and Ibaragi. According the statistics (2018) the population is a little bit more than 14 millions and the number of Catholics (=Japanese) is only about 20.600 faithful, that means only 0.14% of the population in rather small territory of 22.635 km2. But with a surprise, if you ask me, how many are those who live the Gospel values, the numbers would be much higher.
The Catholic community of Saitama diocese includes some 250 consecrated people (priests, permanent deacons, men and women religious, consecrated lay people) of a variety of other nationalities – Koreans, Brazilians, Filipinos, Vietnamese, Peruvians, Latinos from America or Indonesians. There are also many born from the international marriages, There are also quite few refugees or those who are waiting for the legal recognition of their stay in Japan.
Saitama diocese has some 60 parishes distributed in 11 zones with some 40 priests and few permanent deacons, 4 male congregations (OMI, OFM, OFCap, Missionaries of St. Peter) and 18 female congregations (some of the are cloistered nuns). It’s my desire during the first year of my bishop ministry to visit all parishes and religious communities and meet all face-to-face and keep their photo-album renewed every year.
In the territory of Saitama diocese are many Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines, venues of prayer and pilgrimage, deeply rooted in the local society, there are also many Protestant churches. Without doubt, this is a spiritual richness to be shared as brothers, especially the charism of charity and healing.
There are also internationally famous cities lie Tsukuba (science research), Hitachi (symbol of the electronics known world-wide), Nikko (famous Shinto pilgrimage destination with millions of pilgrims and tourist flooding every year from all over the world). And Saitama diocese eastern coast faces the Pacific ocean, famous for the tsunami of March 11, 2011.
To be witnesses of Risen Jesus as a community of faithful
In my conversation with the Apostolic Nuntio when he transmitted to me the news about my appointment as bishop, there are three messages - challenges that impressed me deeply:
Within the Catholic community there are more than 70% of migrant workers, many of them are living in Japan already for past 20 or more years. And recently also is growing the numbers of ‘working students’ who reached Japan on contract for 3-5 years through some agencies and the most numerous are Vietnamese.
Second challenge is how to make help all the various charisms of many congregation be effectively present and enrich the whole diocesan Catholic community.
Third challenge is a dialogue with the ecclesial movements and their possible insertion under the guide and authority of the bishop.
For sure, the Saitama diocesan community does possess as great treasure the plurality of its members. Like when Pope Francis insists that ‘time is greater than space’ (EG 222-225), also in our diocese we need to discern within the vast pastoral field the signs of our times that God is calling us to be the witnesses to the Resurrection of Jesus. Our vision would be the life centered on the Gospel proclaimed and written by the first Christian community (Acts 2, 42-47)
We pray that Mary, Mother of the Church and all peoples, would protect us against the evil forces and that Saint Joseph, her spouse, would guide us in the ministry, with a special attention to children, youth and elderly people!
Episcopal ordination: 24 September 2018
(Urawa city, Akeno hoshi gakuen) at 11 AM, 30 minutes by train from Shinjuku